The all-new 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 (Base MSRP: $102,300 to $106,200) enters a small but growing class of expensive flagship luxury hybrid sedans. Whereas most hybrids use their gasoline-electric powertrains to achieve the highest fuel efficiency possible, luxury hybrid sedans like BMW ActiveHybrid 7 take a different tack and put the emphasis on producing extra power; fuel efficiency gains are of secondary concern, though still present.
Much like the competing 2011 Lexus LS 600h L (Base MSRP: $111,350) and the 2011 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid (Base MSRP: $91,000), the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 has all the luxury features and impressive driving dynamics of the gasoline-powered versions. With a base price of more than $100,000, the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 is one of the fastest hybrids available today, and it's faster than the gasoline versions of the 7 series. It should be noted that the ActiveHybrid 7 is also more expensive than the base gasoline version.
The ActiveHybrid 7 employs a mild hybrid system, meaning that it can't run under electric power alone like some other hybrids. Basically, this allows for the 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine to shut off when the car is stationary (stop/start functionality) and for an extra power boost from a 20-horsepower electric motor when the car is in motion. Electric power comes from a Lithium-ion battery pack, which is lighter (and more expensive) than the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in many other cheaper hybrids. The hybrid powertrain is good for 455 horsepower and 515 pound-feet of torque, sent to the rear-wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Edmunds Inside Line says the power produced by the hybrid set-up "feels capable of melting faces and small planetary bodies alike." All reviewers were incredulous at the power that this hybrid produced.
Even with all that power, fuel economy is improved over the less powerful gasoline version in the BMW 750i. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the ActiveHybrid 7 will deliver 17 mpg highway/24 mpg highway/20 mpg combined. For reference, the BMW 750i is rated at 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway/17 mpg combined. Better fuel economy and more power will be hard for luxury sedan shoppers to argue with. Those who want to buy a hybrid to maximize their fuel economy should look elsewhere: Most hybrids get much better mileage than the BMW ActiveHybrid 7.
The BMW ActiveHybrid 750i and the longer ActiveHybrid 750iL have excellent driving dynamics overall as well, and one critic found it to be an even better driver than the V12 because of less weight hanging over the front wheels. Like the gasoline-powered 7 series, the ActiveHybrid 7 has a taut ride that makes for an engaging ride; Edmunds.com says that it's "a hybrid sedan that's actually fun to drive on a winding road." It does have a firmer ride than the direct competitors, the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid and the Lexus LS 600h. Car and Driver, as well as a few other sources, noted that the engine's stop and start action could be smoother -- they said that switching quickly from brake to throttle while inching forward resulted in a "herky-jerk" motion in some cases. Not all reviewers experienced this though.
As expected with a flagship luxury sedan, the ActiveHybrid 7 comes with many standard high-tech features and creature comforts. Motor Trend describes it as a "spectacular gadget count in a highly agreeable interior." Four-zone climate control, adaptive xenon headlights, adaptive adjustable suspension and front and rear parking sensors are standard, as are Bluetooth compatibility, voice-activated navigation and a 16-speaker audio system. Optional equipment is more impressive, including features like infrared night vision with pedestrian detection and heated rear seats that can recline and massage. Most features, including the stereo and ventilation, are controlled through BMW's universal iDrive control system, which Edmunds.com calls "one of the best of its breed." It is worth noting that some standard features on the ActiveHybrid 7 are optional equipment on the gasoline-powered (and cheaper) BMW 750i.
Because BMW uses a smaller Li-ion battery, trunk volume is reduced by only one cubic foot when compared with the gasoline version, and it can hold 13 cubic feet of cargo. An extended wheelbase version is also available in the form of the ActiveHybrid 750iL, giving more legroom to the rear passengers.
Standard safety equipment includes active front head restraints, front airbags, side airbags, side curtain airbags, stability control, traction control and front knee airbags. Optional safety equipment is available as well, like a lane-departure warning system, a blind-spot warning system and the aforementioned high-tech night vision. No independent or government agencies have crash-tested the ActiveHybrid 7.
The BMW ActiveHybrid 7 comes with BMW's 4 year/50,000 mile warranty, and all maintenance charges are included for that same time/mileage period. Reliability is unknown, because the ActiveHybrid 7 is new for 2011.
General consensus on the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 is that for those who aren't concerned with the price tag, the ActiveHybrid 7 makes sense: It is both faster and more efficient than BMW's traditional gasoline-engine-only offerings, making it a win-win. Expert reviewers make it clear that they prefer the ActiveHybrid 7 to its Mercedes-Benz and Lexus competitors, even considering the 2011 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid is cheaper. As one of the best handling sedans around, the upcoming 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid may challenge the ActiveHybrid 7 in the power and handling departments, and therefore it would be worth checking out if you're in the market for a big-bucks flagship luxury hybrid. In the end, the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 is by no means a value proposition, but it is certainly a compelling choice for the luxury sedan shopper considering hybrids. If one is only interested in luxury and good performance, the cheaper gasoline-engine 2011 BMW 750i may make more sense.
The editors of Edmunds.com provide a detailed overview of the BMW ActiveHybrid 7. They discuss powertrain details, features, trim levels and driving impressions. Their consensus is that if you want a hybrid to save fuel, this isn't the one for you. But, if you're looking for "a luxury sedan that combines hybrid street cred with sub-5-second 0-60mph sprints and dynamic handling, the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 is the only game in town."
Review: 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7, Editors of Edmunds.com
2. Edmunds Inside Line
Edmunds Inside Line is the blog outlet for Edmunds.com. In this first drive, the reviewer comes away impressed with the power and speed that the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 delivers, noting that it's the fastest hybrid in the world, faster than the more expensive V12 BMW 760i. Compared with other gas versions of the BMW 7, the reviewer says he is impressed with the 26 mpg highway rating as well. The price is noted as being quite high, but the great powertrain makes it feel like a top-of-the line luxury sedan.
Review: 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i First Drive, Bradford Elsinore, May 28, 2010
3. Motor Trend
This reviewer at Motor Trend comes away impressed by the BMW ActiveHybrid 7, for it manages to improve gas mileage when compared with the gasoline versions, but it also provides plenty of power and fun driving despite its hybrid powertrain. Aside from the hybrid components, this reviewer notes that "in other respects this is a normal 7 series É which means a spectacular gadget count in a highly agreeable interior." He goes on to say that the ride could still be sorted out a bit better.
Review: First Drive: 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7, Paul Horrell, Oct. 2009
4. Car and Driver
Jared Gall from Car and Driver expresses a bit of confusion regarding the BMW ActiveHybrid 7's philosophy, because BMW didn't seem to prioritize fuel economy when implementing the hybrid powertrain. He likes the car, though overall he notes that in a few cases the start-stop feature creates a "herky jerk" sensation as the engine fires up from a standstill. Given the choice between the competing 2011 Lexus LS 600h L and the BMW, "we'd buy this one," the reviewer concludes.
Review: 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750Li -- Short Take Road Test, Jared Gall, March 2011
5. Motor Week
Much like other reviewers, MotorWeek.com likes the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 for its superior power over gasoline-only versions. The editors point out that it gets better fuel economy than its main competition, the Lexus LS 600h L. Although editors say the introduction of cars like the BMW 7-Series hybrid may be more of a publicity stunt, they acknowledge that this hybrid does improve fuel economy while still being an "uncompromising BMW."
Review: Road Test: 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7, Editors of MotorWeek.com
CNET.com is a technology oriented website that reviews cars while focusing on their technological features and innovations in addition to their driving abilities. Given that focus, reviewer Wayne Cunningham finds that some of the infotainment screens are unintuitive and that the start-stop engine feature could be smoother in stop-and-go traffic. In the end, he is not convinced that the hybrid drivetrain adds significant value to the 7 series.
Review: 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7, Wayne Cunningham, March 18, 2011
7. The Washington Post
Like others, Warren Brown declares that "the price differential [between the hybrid and non-hybrid version] automatically makes something clear: anyone with the wherewithal and will to pay a $20,000 premium for the privilege of driving a hybrid automobile isn't doing so to spend less on gasoline." Thus, he isn't surprised that the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 doesn't focus on fuel economy gains. He concludes that as a luxury car, the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 succeeds.
Review: Warren Brown Reviews the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7, Warren Brown, July 11, 2010
ConsumerReports.org is one of the best sources for automotive reviews and information. While ConsumerReports.org hasn't tested the ActiveHybrid 7 specifically, they do rank the regular BMW 750i against other luxury sedans.
Review: Sedans, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
Relative to other hybrids, the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 gets low fuel economy. Compared with other luxury hybrids though, it performs similarly. The ActiveHybrid 7 gets a combined 20 mpg, as does the Lexus LS 600h L. The Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid gets 21 mpg combined, but also produces less power.
Review: 2011 Hybrid Vehicles, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov